Author In Training

Thank you to my mentors!


Mentors.

What’s a mentor?

I looked it up on the Merriam-Webster dictionary website and found:

A: a trusted counselor or guide

B:  tutor, coach

Next, I looked up tutor: a person charged with the instruction and guidance of another

I’m glad I found the definitions, but mostly I’m glad I found my mentors.

This wonderful group of people guided me as I learned about writing. I entered my first writers workshop with no knowledge about the craft or the skill needed to put my thoughts to paper (actually to the computer screen.) The first pieces I shared with them had lots of mistakes. My mentors gave gentle,  yet constructive criticism. I considered myself an infant in the life of an author. They took my hand as I grew through the toddler stage, entered “school” and worked my way through the lessons they provided.

Within the confines of a supportive community of trusted guides, tutors and coaches, I gained confidence and learned from them the correct procedure to submit the things I’d written. When it came time to write my first book query, and then my book proposal, experienced eyes found my weak areas and offered me suggestions for improvement.

I recently attended the conference that I feel gave me a solid start, the Cedar Falls Christian Writers Workshop. On my way to the first day of the three-day conference, I stopped at the post office to pick up my mail. I marveled about God’s timing. For you see, my recently won award plague had just arrived – the 2017 Selah Award for memoir writing. From an “infant” to “I’m not even sure what grade I’m in these days” in six years!

I remember May 24, 2017 – the night the awards were announced through a live Twitter feed. I sat in my home, alone as the words, “Virginia Pillars winner of the Selah Award for Memoir” appeared on my screen. I covered my face and cried – “I never thought it would be me.” May 24 is also National Schizophrenia Awareness Day. My book, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith tells the story of our family’s experience with schizophrenia. I still tell others to pinch me – wake me up from this dream I didn’t know I had.

I want to say, “thank you” to those who helped me. If you follow me, you may know that I write under a pseudonym at the request of my family. They fear stigma will re-enter our daughter’s life, so I honor them by keeping them out of social media. I don’t publish photographs of me, or my family for this reason, but I can share the photos of my mentors. Through them, I learned to write, publish and speak about my story through schizophrenia with my child. 

I’ve asked them to hold my award, for I believe some of the credit belongs to them, too. I couldn’t have done it without them.

Mary Kenyon

 

 

Mary Potter Kenyon writes and speaks on the subjects of grief, cancer, friendship, the word of coupons, and writing for publication. She is currently working on her fifth book.

 

 

Shelly
Shelly Beach

Shelly Beach is an award-winning author, founder of the Cedar Falls Christian Writers Workshop, author of six books and frequent speaker on PTSD.

Jolene
Jolene Philo

Jolene Philo has a passion for those with special needs, especially our youth. She’s written many books and speaks extensively on the subject.

Wanda
Wanda Sanchez

Wanda Sanchez and Shelly Beach work together in the field of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.) As co-authors of an award-winning book, Love Letters from the Edge, they speak nationwide. Reach them at PTSD Perspectives.

Mary Humston
Mary Jedlicka Humston

Mary Jedlicka Humstom co-authored Mary and Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink with Mary Potter Kenyon. It tells their friendship of over thirty years through the art of letter writing.

And last, but not least, these are some of the group who meet regularly and have taught me, challenged me as we shared our writings, and heaped out large scoops of encouragement. If I overlooked someone, it is not my intent. I appreciate each and every person I’ve met along the way.

writers group

THANK YOU!

 

 

Advertisements
Virginia's Reviews

Book Review: Rightfully Ours


IMG_0142

I won a copy Rightfully Ours, by  Carolyn Astfalk from a Facebook giveaway. I began reading it on Saturday morning and finished it on Monday afternoon. I found myself picking it up in spite of a flurry of activities, anxious to discover what came next.

As I read I thought, “This would be a great book for teens to read.” Even though it’s been almost fifty years since I fell into this age group, the feelings and thoughts of my youth came back in vivid memories as I read. Carolyn wrote how my brain tells me that I felt.

I liked the style of the writing. The main characters had flaws so they didn’t feel like cardboard caricatures. It had just the right amount of descriptive scenery to transport me to rural Pennsylvania, but not so much that I skipped those paragraphs. I thought the feelings between Paul and Rachel developed at a speed that felt real. Often times, one party feels differently and it takes time for the relationship to morph from friendship to deep feelings of affection. I liked the way Carolyn handled those thoughts and reactions, as well as how innocent situations can escalate out of control.

I also liked the way the author wove her beliefs into the story without it feeling preachy. It sent me a clear message about the struggles that some teens face and their wish to discover a way to handles their passions.

Coming of age stories fall into “one of my favorite” categories for novels, and this story lived up to my expectations.

I would recommend this book for teens, especially those in a dating relationship, and for those who wish to understand them. I plan to pass on Rightfully Ours to a local high school library so teenagers can enjoy this fast-moving, readable novel with plenty of action and a mystery that held my interest.

Faith is important to me., My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

WOW!


I’m doing a happy dance today because of yesterday, May 24.

Let me explain. Earlier this year I submitted my book, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith to two different awards. One award: the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval (SOA.); the second one: the coveted Selah Award.

What are they?

From the website for the SOA: “The purpose of the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval is to help Catholic bookstores and venues in their determination of the Catholicity of a work. This reassurance from a professional organization can assist authors in marketing alogo-color-cwg-soa-copynd promoting their works. Books are also judged by their editorial integrity as well.

Readers can be assured that SoA books will not offend their faith and have a certain level of editorial quality.”

At the end of March I received notice that Broken Brain, Fortified Faith had received the SOA.  I did a happy dance!

On May 2, I received an email that Broken Brain, Fortified Faith had made the finalists list for The Selah Award. From their Facebook page: “The Selah Awards, which are awarded annually at BRMCWC, are awarded to books within Christian publishing that are considered excellent within their genre.”

Talk about excited!

Last night, the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference (BRMCWCSelahs_Seal_WINNER_2017[3098]) announced the Selah awards for the top books in each genre. Since I couldn’t go, I tuned in via twitter which posted as they were announced. I’m glad I was alone during the awards. As I read my name in the twitter feed, “Winner, Memoir, Virginia Pillars — Broken Brain, Fortified Faith (Familius) contd,” I cried tears of gratitude  –  and no one watched.

If you’ve read this blog, you may understand that I didn’t think of myself as a author. I didn’t write much until I hit my 50’s. (Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks.) Even as I met with success, I didn’t consider myself in the same category with the award-winning authors. I just didn’t. I’m too new in the world of writing and publishing.

This morning, after I calmed down a bit I picked up one of my daily devotionals. I sat stunned as I read yesterday’s reflection. (I hadn’t taken the time yesterday –  shame on me.)

As I read the words written by Twila Belk in her book, Raindrops from Heaven, I had a feeling of empowerment.

May 24When I work in tandem with the Holy Spirit, powerful things happen. My mouth moves, and messages come out that I didn’t even have in my head. And those messages impact lives. It’s so much fun! Thank you for giving me stories to tell and for the power to get them said.”

“It IS fun!”

Don’t get me wrong, the story I wrote was NOT fun. Anything, but, and I’d never wish the situation on anyone. But happen it did, and to our family. But the second installment of my story is fun. The writing, the publishing, the awards! Now, I truly believe even when I didn’t feel capable to write and share our story, the Holy Spirit guided me. I asked, listened and then moved forward.

If reading our story, or my thoughts in this blog helps another person, then I feel it gives the journey I took meaning.

Rejoice with me. It can happen. And to top it off, the award came during Mental Health Awareness month. Broken Brain, Fortified Faith shares my struggles as my daughter battled schizophrenia. Now, I hope, countless people are aware! Plus, as a final bonus, I get to put award stickers on my book and my press release reads: “Award-winning author.”

Wow! Somebody pinch me.

Guest Blogs

Book Review @ FranciscanMom.com


Thank you, for this wonderful review Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS.

A few lines from Barb’s Bookshelf review:

Virginia Pillars’ memoir of a mother navigating the world of parenting a young adult with a brand-new diagnosis schizophrenia is at once heart-wrenching, informative and inspiring. In Broken Brain, Fortified Faith, Pillars honestly describes her day-by-day experience with her daughter’s illness and recovery, with a view toward helping other families whose lives are touched by a frustrating disease.

“The author’s conversational style make a book with challenging subject matter easy to read. Pillars takes a day-by-day approach through the difficult months of diagnosis and a search for appropriate treatment, bringing the reader along for the ride to hospitals, waiting rooms, and therapists’ offices. Her first impulse, when hearing of any kind of setback, is to place her daughter in God’s hands, asking Him to be with her in that time of crisis.”

Read the rest of her review on Barb’s Bookshelf.

Barb also blogs at CatholicMom and Cook and Count.

I appreciate the time other people give me when they read my book and write a review. We’re all busy people and most everyone I know puts too much on their plate each day. So I am grateful to other authors who take time for my project!

Thank you, Barb!

 

Faith is important to me., My thoughts about Mental Health, Uncategorized, Virginia Pillars

Happy Mother’s Day to me.


 

My daughMothers-Day-Picturester  Amber has schizophrenia and I’m glad I’m her mom.

“She’s lucky to have you for parents.” “She’s doing well because of you.”

I’ve heard this often. I usually answer them, “I’m glad I’m her mom.”

Schizophrenia tried to steal Amber from the life she envisioned for herself. Her brain disorder bombarded her with symptoms after she graduated from college and headed into the world to follow her dreams. Paranoia, delusions, visual and auditory hallucinations, distorted thinking, and confusion crippled her for many harrowing months. As she spiraled out of the reality I knew into a one that made no sense, I thought I lost my only daughter forever. The relationship I envisioned for us slipped away as the whirlpool of mental illness sucked her away.

Through treatment, things changed. She entered the recovery stage and manages her symptoms through medication and self-care. She works full-time, lives on her own, manages her own affairs, and leads a social life that makes me tired.

Thirteen years later, I have my daughter back. My husband, Roy and I have an amazing daughter. And I feel that I gained a confidant and friend. As Mother’s Day approaches, I look back and see how our relationship evolved from mother/daughter through caregiver/patient, back to mother/daughter and now – friend.

Amber and I call each other almost daily. We talk about our day, the latest book we’ve read or movie that we’ve watched. We share our thoughts about faith, situations around us and giggle over silly stories. I ask her for advice and vice versa. But beyond my conversation partner, I look at where we’ve been and I am grateful.

I would not have chosen this off-road course of life for her, or for our family. But life throws things at us that we can’t avoid. In spite of the struggles, the stress, and the heartache we had, I found joy. I leaned on my faith to help me cope until I saw a glimmer of hope again.  I feel I became a better person because of her illness and the things I learned. Things I wish I knew years ago:

  • Treat it like every other illness. Mental Illness is a biological illness. Scientists and researchers proved this. Molecular changes take place in the brain that are visible through brain imaging. So why did I feel embarrassed when Amber first became sick with the symptoms of schizophrenia? Would have I reacted this way to cancer or diabetes? Would I deny her illness? I think not.
  • Accept the illness. “It’s not your fault” became part of my daily phrases I said to Amber. She didn’t choose this for herself. She didn’t understand why her world turned against her. I repeated “I love you, I’m here for you,” often. Once I accepted her brain disorder, I moved forward. I became her advocate, caregiver, and support.
  • Early Treatment. Once I realized that Amber’s brain was in trauma, Roy and I took action. Early treatment made a huge difference in how her brain reacted to treatment. Once the doctors found the right medication, she began to heal. I learned that schizophrenia alters the brain by destroying the gray matter. Now, thirteen years later, she understands her illness and wants to stay in recovery.
  • Support can help a loved one succeed. In our family, we moved Amber home during her recovery. After a lengthy hospital stay, I treated her as if she came home from a cancer treatment. I let her choose the level of activity she could handle. I didn’t ask for her help with household chores. I helped manage her medications and appointments. As she healed, she regained the stamina and wanted to do things for herself. With this came confidence in her abilities.
  • Support for the family whose loved one faces mental illness makes a huge difference. Often time when tragedy strikes a family, the surrounding community reacts with compassion, support and financial help. But what happens to the family who deals with the tragedy of a serious brain disorder? Who steps in to hold them up? In our case, our families and friends did. They sent cards, letters, small gifts and visited Amber in the hospital. We received the same treatment, a friend even delivered a casserole! Now, support to other families ranks high on my list of priorities.
  • Educate yourself. Education played a key role for me understanding mental illness. I learned what Amber faced by reading books on the subject. I also attended the Family to Family class through NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) where I learned about the brain, symptoms, treatments and how to care for myself. I gained the tools I needed to cope.
  • Be open. Once I shared my experience with others, I felt empowered and no longer isolated. My honesty allowed people to share their own journeys with me and we could support each other.
  • Fight for them. I turned into a mama bear for her. I stood up for her when she couldn’t stand for herself. Roy and I sought the best treatment for her, switching providers if necessary. I filled out paperwork for her until she could do it for herself. Now, I get to stand to the side and root for her as she lives her life in a way that is similar to other women her age.
  • Pray. I prayed daily for her and for me. For her to understand her illness. For the doctors to find the correct medicine to help her. And wisdom and strength for me to do the right things to help her recover.

Yes, I’m grateful Amber is my daughter. I understand schizophrenia is often relentless and vicious. And that not everyone wins the battle. But I’m grateful that if Amber is one out of one hundred people to have it, that she was born into our family. I’m glad we found the help she needed and that she recaptured a life of independence packed with work, friends, faith and family.

Happy Mother’s Day to me and to every mom who loves someone with a mental illness. We do the best we can! Happy-Mothers-Day-Pictures-2

My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Elephant in the Room, Part 2


Yesterday, I compared the discussion about mental illness to the elephant that’s in the room. It’s a subject we all know about, but no one talks about it. Always there, it lingers in the corners of our lives.

Today, I want to expand on elephants.

I had the great privilege to spend three weeks in the African nation of Zimbabwe. It was my dream trip of a lifetime. While there, I stepped out of my comfort zone – big time! I spent three nights in a wild game park, in a designated campsite – in a sleeping bag – in a tent! On the way to the site, I saw elephants, zebra, giraffes, monkeys, baboons, plus others such as kudu and wildebeest. I’d also walked down to the riverbank, just below our campsite, and watched the hippos and the crocodiles swim and stare at me.

With a great case of the nerves, I climbed into my sleeping bag to attempt a night’s sleep. I fell asleep to the sound of the hippos in the river, who by the way sound like a Harley, and the sound of my companions strumming their guitars around the campfire.

During the middle of the night, after I finally feel asleep, a ginormous CRASH woke me with a start. Neither my husband, Roy or myself felt brave enough to investigate so we stayed in our tent until we heard the rattle of pans as our companions cooked breakfast.

“Did you hear the elephant?” was the first question posed to us.

“That’s what made that terrible racket?” I asked.

“Yeah, it was in our campsite!”

We went to investigate and discovered an elephant had ripped down a large branch of the Mopane tree to eat the leaves and small twigs. I guess it wanted a midnight snack.

So why share this story. Because I learned something about elephants that night. It entered in silence. I thought something that large would make a lot of noise as it entered and exited our campsite. It came all three nights, but the only time I knew it was near was when I heard the crash.

So much like mental illness – it entered our life in silence and the only way I knew it had arrived was when I heard the “crash.” My crash? A co-worker called me to let me know she suspected something was terribly wrong with our child. I rushed to my daughter’s side and brought her home with me. I could no longer ignore the “elephant in the room.” I had to face mental illness.

 

 

Guest Blogs, My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Book Review by Jeanie Ewing


Thank you, Jeannie Ewing for this wonderful review!

Broken Brain, Fortified Faith

I stumbled upon this book when I was at my brief EWTN visit last summer.  It was atop a stack of books and magazines in the great room of the guest house where I stayed, and I picked it up, curious and intrigued.  After a moment, I decided I would swap this book for another I had finished on my trip.

A few months later, I discovered the author, Virginia Pillars, on social media.  We briefly connected, and I realized it was time for me to start reading the book.  The initial intrigue I felt was due to the fact that I also have mental illness in my family.  We do not have a history of schizophrenia, but bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder are both quite prevalent.  Plus, with my background and interest in psychology and counseling, I knew it was an important read.

Pillars’ book is a memoir, which is very fascinating and well written.  She describes her family’s journey through her daughter’s diagnosis of schizophrenia and several hospitalizations, as well as other tragedies they endured in only a two-year span: the death of her infant grandson and her daughter-in-law’s bout with cancer.

What sustained Pillars through all of this?  Her faith.  Like most of us, she was shaken and her faith was also tested, but she very honestly explains how she moved from discouragement to hope – through reading her daily devotionals to helpful books and connecting with close friends and family members, many of whom were true godsends to her at the time she needed the most encouragement.

Broken Brain, Fortified Faith is a book that will both inspire and inform anyone who is struggling to understand a loved one’s diagnosis of mental illness.  In addition to the eloquent underpinning of her grief journey, Pillars includes a short list of helpful resources for her readers to peruse more thoroughly, including the NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) website and the books that helped her understand mental illness in general.

Above all, the best point she makes is how important it is for each of us to do our part in helping to change the culture of stigma surrounding mental illness.  If we learn how to advocate for those who suffer in this invisible way, we can help change people’s hearts and minds about mental illness.  The truth remains: we often fear what we do not understand.  Education and advocacy are key to unraveling the mystery of mental illness, and Broken Brain, Fortified Faith is a smart resource for those who work in the mental health industry or as a personal companion through the toughest moments you will face with your loved one.

Copyright 2017 Jeannie Ewing, all rights reserved.

%d bloggers like this: